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Packers Looking to Expand Mike Neal's Role

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Packers Looking to Expand Mike Neal's Role

Mike Neal's brief appearance at outside linebacker during Tuesday's organized team activities may be nothing more than a mid-May experiment, but the opportunity likely proves that the Green Bay Packers have committed to giving the former second-round pick an expanded role in the defense for 2013.

Head coach Mike McCarthy confirmed after the practice that the Packers are looking at new ways to get Neal involved.

"Depends on how you use big guys in space," McCarthy said. "We're going to expand Mike Neal's role. Going to wait on specifics until Week 1 of the season."

Despite playing his entire NFL career as a 290-pound or heavier defensive lineman, Neal spent unexpected time at outside linebacker in the base defense Tuesday. He was asked to both rush the passer from a two-point stance and drop into coverage—two mostly foreign tasks to the Packers' second rounder in 2010—during 7-on-7 drills.

According to Neal, the Packers told him—in no specific terms—that his role would be expanding.

"When I got here, it was, ‘Hey, go upstairs. We’ve got to talk to you about something," Neal said, per Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "We’re going to try and move you around a little bit. We’re going to try and expand your role. We want to get familiar with all facets of the game and we’ll take it from there."

Whether or not Neal continues to see time at outside linebacker—a position the Packers remain obviously thin—is yet to be seen.

But considering how effective Neal was a pass rusher last season, it's no wonder why McCarthy and defensive coordinator Dom Capers are attempting to devise new ways to get Neal after quarterbacks.

According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Neal finished the 2013 season as the third best 3-4 defensive end in pass rushing productivity. Only J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans and Arthur Jones of the Baltimore Ravens were more productive on a per snap basis than Neal, who tallied 20 total quarterback pressures (sacks, hits and hurries) over just 191 pass-rushing snaps.

Neal, 25, was at his best late last season.

After serving a four-game suspension for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs, and then dealing with a number of nagging injuries (knee, ankle, shoulder), Neal went on an impressive five-game stretch from Week 13 (Minnesota) to the NFC Wild Card (also Minnesota) that included 16 total pressures. His pass-rushing grade at PFF during the span was +7.6, the best on the team from Week 13 on.

Neal would eventually struggle holding the edge in the base defense against the San Francisco 49ers in the Divisional Round, but there were very few bright spots that Saturday night in terms of stopping the run. Neal was no exception during his 28 snaps, 17 of which came in pass-rushing situations (he recorded just a single hurry).

Overall, Neal finished 2012 as Green Bay's highest graded pass-rusher along the defensive line, and second on the team to only Clay Matthews.

Neal admitted following Tuesday's practice that he has very little idea what the staff plans to do with him, especially as an outside linebacker. Officially listed at 294 pounds, Neal is an unlikely candidate to remain as a standup passer rusher off the edge.

And considering the Packers were without backup Dezman Moses Tuesday, it's entirely possible that Neal's try out at outside linebacker was nothing more than a placement made possible out of necessity.

However, the Packers drafting of Datone Jones in the first round could rob a player like Neal of precious snaps along the defensive line. Jones, who has vast experience in the 3-4 defense, is likely capable of playing all three downs early in his NFL career.

But considering how effective Neal was as a pass-rusher in obvious passing situations last season, the Packers will now want to create new ways of getting Neal in situations were he can disrupt the quarterback.

Neal had little idea of whether or not the defense's effort to do so would include long-term snaps at outside linebacker.

"This is OTA's and it’s just them getting a feel for something," Neal said. "If I knew I would tell you. I have no clue."

Neal may not be in the loop on his role for 2013, but the Packers are making no secret about their desire to create more opportunities for Neal next season. An unrestricted free agent after 2013, Neal should have every chance to prove he belongs in Green Bay's plans long-term.

Zach Kruse is a 24-year-old sports writer who contributes to Cheesehead TV, Bleacher Report and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He also covers prep sports for the Dunn Co. News. You can reach him on Twitter @zachkruse2 or by email at zachkruse2@gmail.com.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (99) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Evan's picture

"According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Neal finished the 2013 season as the third best 3-4 defensive end in pass rushing productivity."

NONSENSE! Everyone knows he's TERRIBLE. A total bust.

packeraaron's picture

Lol.

jeremy's picture

Doesn't PFF know he only weighed 290, and he's not a 49er?

Idiot Fan's picture

I can't bring myself to type the initials, but that made me laugh out loud.

PackersRS's picture

ROFLMAO FTW

cow42's picture

maybe the reason he's always hurt is because he's too small.

Stroh's picture

Like your buddy Justin Smith. Same size!

cow42's picture

so i suppose you'd think it was a good idea to have Smith playing OLB as well.

Stroh's picture

That wasn't what you were talking about was it?! Don't change the subject! You were talking size and injuries weren't you!

cow42's picture

didn't smith get hurt last year?

Evan's picture

First time in a decade (since his rookie season) he hasn't started 16 games. Dude, give this one up.

Stroh's picture

Thank You for making my point Evan. He said Neal is always hurt due to his size. Neal same size as Justin Smith who's rarely hurt. Clearly that argument doesn't wash!

Didn't think that was too hard to figure out...

Bearmeat's picture

This sounds a lot like Capers saying Aaron Kampmann would have the freedom to rush standing up from OLB and with his hand in the dirt. How did that work out?

Neal is a DE. Not an OLB. Leave him where he should play.

ArodMoney's picture

If I had to guess it's just getting Neal used to rushing with his hands off the ground which he does frequently in 3rd and long situations.

PackersRS's picture

I think similarly.

To me this is all about getting him familiar with playing in space, not just rushing.

I'd say it's part of their plan to guard the read-option.

And if I'm right, Neal will be a regular fixture in the defense, not just a sub-package player.

This all based on nothing but guesses.

cow42's picture

Neal moving in space = ACL/MCL injury waiting to happen.

PackersRS's picture

Of course.

ArodMoney's picture

IMO he's the most talented defensive lineman on the team, even after drafting Jones. All he needs is the snaps.

Evan's picture

And to stay healthy, obviously.

But I'm expecting a big year from him.

ArodMoney's picture

Cant get the snaps if hes hurt!

bryce's picture

Didn't you just say he was a bust?

Fried cheese's picture

This is a good way to get a guy injured. Hope they know what there doing

cow42's picture

Neal as OLB = stupid.
Stop wasting practice time.

ArodMoney's picture

I'd much rather prefer they work on Olineman recovering fumbles.

cow42's picture

also stupid.

ArodMoney's picture

Yea I was joking.

jeremy's picture

Ever heard of a 4-3 Under? Since you love everything the 49ers do so much I'd think you'd have creamed your pants at this news.

MarkinMadison's picture

They might also just be getting a feel for whether they could use him on game-day if there was an injury/emergency.

PackerPete's picture

only the 49ers can play that. Since they are the only ones who actually have NFL players. Seattle has a few, but as an entire team, just the 49ers can play anything. If Neal was playing for the 49ers, he would be great. If Jones had been drafted by the 49ers, he would be the greatest pass rusher ever. But they play for the Packers, so they must suck.

Chad Toporski's picture

Had the Packers never tried Brad Jones at ILB during OTAs, just think where things might have gone last season.

cow42's picture

yeah - if they wouldn't have had the great and powerful Jones they may have given up 400 yards to Peterson instead of 300 and 600 yards to the 49'ers as opposed to 570.

thank goodness Jones is so awesome.

Chad Toporski's picture

Dude, you need to get laid or something.

Point Packer's picture

Agreed. Cow needs some action.

cow42's picture

married for 13 years + multiple kids = that wouldn't do much for me.

Stroh's picture

Feel sorry for wife and kids! Being so negative is no way to live.

redlights's picture

Click one of those testosterone banner ads!

cow42's picture

stroh - bite me.

Stroh's picture

So not only negative but immature. Must lovely for your wife and kids.

cow42's picture

"Must lovely..."

?

Lucky953's picture

I guess they just want to be less predictable in their rush patterns, maybe be more effective in using zone blitzes. It will be tougher for opposing OLs to sort out their assignments if they can bring a variety of guys from different positions on the field. I'm sure Neal can provide better coverage than BJ (remembering the INT in the NFC Championship game).

Charlie M's picture

Not a fan of this move unless it's very sporadic and he's used strictly as a rush olb. I was hoping Neal would be a main cog in the nickle/dime dl rotation. If I see him covering Michael Crabtree week 1, like Perry last year, I will freak out.

Idiot Fan's picture

No OLB should be covering a WR, clay included. I guess I don't relly know, but I can't imagine they ever intentionally do that.

cow42's picture

did you watch the game against SF week 1 last season?

...it happened.

Idiot Fan's picture

Yeah, that's not what I said. My point was that its unlikely that the coaches were intentionally choosing that matchup.

ArodMoney's picture

Yea it happens more than I like as well. The problem is playing the 49ers you have to stay in base D b/c of their tight ends. The Pack can't send 5 on every play so CM3/Perry had to drop quite a bit and created mismatches like that.

PackersRS's picture

Playing more zone in base would help as well.

But it is inevitable. Solution? More pressure from the DL. Jamming their asses (but have to rely on safeties)...

packsmack25's picture

No worries, he definitely won't be covering Crabtree.

FITZCORE 1252'S EVO's picture

LMAO, that's a guarantee.

Stroh's picture

Lmao

Walty's picture

Haha.

Clay's picture

Crabtree just tore his Achilles so yup to that!

...not that I wish bad on another team or anything;)

Franklin Hillside's picture

People complain the defense is too vanilla and then when something crazy happens to shake it up, it's TOO crazy.

"I want a steak."

"Here's a free steak."

"This steak isn't done enough."

cow42's picture

how about this analogy instead?

...let's try baking the cake before working on the frosting.

just think there are probably 100000000000000000000000 other things that would be a higher priority than taking time on day #2 to work on something they MIGHT use 3 times (at most) all season.

same w/ the fumble drill.

Chad Toporski's picture

Because you're an NFL coach...

cow42's picture

things i've learned today...

1.gotta be a coach to have an opinion
2.coaches are always right

OSUPacker's picture

If I am not mistaken the Packers tried the same thing with Cullen Jenkins a few years back. Don't understand what all the hullabaloo is about. They are probably just going to stand him up on a few passing downs and have him rush from a 2 point stance from maybe a 6 tech instead of hand in the dirt at the 5. I believe last year that they also stood Worthy up and moved him around a few times as well.

Chad Toporski's picture

You obviously missed my point.

You were basically saying that Mike McCarthy doesn't know how to manage his OTA practices, as well as doesn't know what he should be having the players work on. Seems to me like he might have a little more experience in that department.

But I'm sure that doesn't affect your arrogance at all. Hell, you probably think the Packers won the Super Bowl in SPITE of McCarthy. So keep on keeping on, cow... You'd be letting us all down if you started approaching things more realistically.

FITZCORE 1252'S EVO's picture

It's great if they're diversifying his portfolio, I just hope they're not "counting" on him. We all know his history with injuries, and we all hope they are behind him, but, they just can't discount the history, It would be negligent (need a plan B)... Kid is a beast when available though.

mani2packers's picture

No way. Mike Neal is a bust. He might have been good if the 49ers had drafted him. But TT can't draft. Another stupid wasted pick from TT. Cut him now!

mani2packers's picture

On a serious note. Why draft Jones 1st overall if neal is such a beast? I always loved Neal. Was so excited about him after SB season and departure of Cullen Jenkins. Hope he gets some more snaps! Glad pack recognize his effort and motor.

MarkinMadison's picture

2014 line: Neal, Raji, Jones. It could happen.

ArodMoney's picture

2013 line: Neal, Raji, Jones. It will happen

Evan's picture

"Why draft Jones 1st overall if neal is such a beast?"

Because he's a beast "when healthy." I expect him to have a huge year, but he simply can't be counted on at this point.

Also, he's a free agent after this season, along with about 90% of the d-line.

PackersRS's picture

You can never have enough good Dlinemen.

Neal has the chances to be really good, but he's not right now and he's been injuried too often to be able to rely on him. Add Worthy's injury, and we're suddenly thin at DL, particularly as pass rushers.

Evan's picture

Michael Crabtree: torn Achilles. Ouch.

PackerPete's picture

that must be wrong. this could never happen to a great 49ers player. They are all injury free and just big NFL players. Come on, injuries cannot happen to those guys.

Evan's picture

Well, since he is a 49er, the recovery time is only 4 days. So...

redlights's picture

The SB curse begins.

SF 6-10
GB 11-5

Who cares who wins Wk1.

cow42's picture

lucky for them they traded for Boldin and drafted Patton.

Stroh's picture

Yeah a 34 yr old and a rookie are gonna make up Crabs production. What about the bust WR they drafted in the 1 rd last year ?!

Stroh's picture

Who was it told me Neal was a bust and was no where near the pass rusher Jones is?! Come on out and get you Crow Pie, its still fresh

BrianD's picture

Mike Neal: the Jermichael Finley of the defense

Evan's picture

Uhhh...based on what?

BrianD's picture

It's not a serious comparison BUT

Both ended a promising season on IR
They're learning different roles this offseason
Finley doesn't have his head on straight, neither does Neal (smack talking vs. substance abuse suspension)
Good production in short bursts
Labeled as busts/wasted potential at times
etc

Evan's picture

That's a much more compelling case than I was expecting. Whenever I see a Finley comparison thrown around I assume the person is basing it on Finley's mouth.

ArodMoney's picture

More like James Starks

Jamie's picture

Maybe it's just me, but day 2 of OTAs seems like a perfect time to work Neal in at OLB.

Don't they want to know how he fare's with the basics before dedicating substantial practice time to the idea?

But, by all means...don't let a little rational thought stop your tears.

cow42's picture

how 'bout we find out if he can actually play DE?

Ma Linger's picture

I apologize, must be missing something, because I am way down on this guys play. Where are the sacks, the stops. How many games has he played versus missed to injury?
I would almost place money that if he went on the market no one would take him. Maybe as a back up but thats it.

Jamie's picture

Apparently you missed all of 2012.

If he were released, I wouldn't be too surprised if 31 teams put in a claim for him.

Still a lot to prove, but unless you hold grudges against players or you didn't watch many Packer games last year, it's fair to say Neal was often disruptive as part of the D-line rotation.

PackerPete's picture

Maybe not 31 teams, but a lot for sure. The combination of Clay and Neal was highly disruptive. Neal, if healthy, is probably the best pass rusher of the Packers DL, at least of the ones which were on the roster 2012. Jones may be better, that remains to be seen. But, Neal is pretty good, if healthy. The if healthy was his problem in the past.

redlights's picture

No, not 31. His salary will price him above a lot of teams. = he is valuable

PackersRS's picture

"Where are the sacks, the stops"

5 sacks. 11 tackles for loss. 11 games.

Justin Smith had 3 sacks and 9 tackles for loss (last statistic may not be true, found in this site: http://www.teamrankings.com/nfl/player-stat/defense-tackles-for-loss) in 12 games last season, for comparison's sake.

Point Packer's picture

Ma Linger is Cow's understudy.

Idiot Fan's picture

Yes but Justin Smith's true value is from his ability to grab and hold the Olineman so that Aldon Smith can run around him and get the sack.

Stroh's picture

Give that nan a cigar. What happened when Justin wasnt committing a penalty every play to free Aldon? Suddenly he couldn't buy a sack!

Morgan Mundane's picture

Maybe they are worried about Perry being a full time guy and using Neal as a what if?

Jamie's picture

Maybe in case of injury...not talent/ability.

Otto's picture

Maybe they're trying a "heavy" formation, like Neal, Pickett, Raji, Wilson, Perry. The lightest guy on that list is Perry at 270. There appears to be an assumption that this is about pass rush. If you wanted to slow down the run, that would be a formidable front 5.

TommyG's picture

Agreed. Maybe an AP stopping package of sorts?

FITZCORE 1252'S EVO's picture

I like where your head is at.

madmanJack's picture

Perry's a bust...always hurt like Neal. put both on IR NOW and bring in some healthy guys!

Evan's picture

It's too early for this nonsense.

madmanJack's picture

its never too early for COWS$&!@

gbfpage's picture

Just thinking about Perry-Neal-Raji-Jones-Matthews gives me a chubby

cow42's picture

i would run at that front ALL DAY.

ArodMoney's picture

And you would have little success

Point Packer's picture

This just in, Jim Harbaugh used his San Francico 49'er magic pixy dust to heal Michael Crabtree's torn achilles tendon. "Crabtree is completely healed and will resume OTA's immediately", a spokesperson for the 49'ers was quoted as saying.

When corned after a recent practice and asked about his use of his 49'er magic pixy dust on Crabtree Harbaugh responded, "yes."

When asked how often he planned on using the 49'er magic pixy dust Harbaugh responded bluntly, "as much as needed."

.....

Fi cr's picture

I tell ya what u do wit da forninercators. You outside contain and field punts.

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